Why I’m enraptured with “Miller’s Girl.” Movie Review

by The Latino Slant

Mr. Miller(Martin Freeman) and Cario Sweet(Jenna Ortega) blur the lines.

The storytelling begins as a stylized dramatic play with Mr. Miller’s(Martin Freeman) bohemian classroom as our main setting. The four main characters , Mr. Miller, Cario Sweet(Jenna Ortega), Boris Fillmore(Bashir Salahuddin) and Winnie(Gideon Adlon,) enter and exit said room while giving nods to each other’s relationships. Character development is a joy to hear through writer/director Jade Halley Bartlett ‘s witty dialogue. From the adults to the teenagers, all are grounded, yet there is a fantastical, poetic narration to the film.

Miller is married to a very famous established author herself, Beatrice(Dagmara Dominczyk), who is jaded with her mundane success and disappointed in Miller’s Position as a high school teacher. In her eyes, Miller is not an author on her level, their unequal relationship means everything to this film or else the cerebral love affair between Miller and Cairo would never have happened.

Bartlett sets a great Tennessee goth look to the film as she plays with the idea of Cairo being the lovesick, aspiring writer/teenager to that of a poison ivy trope. It’s very interesting as she can hold full conversations with all the adults in the film, despite her age and reclusive nature. She is that teenager who escaped into her favorite author’s books and language, but has hardly any friends her age.

When asked by Boris, “Don’t you get scared walking through those woods?,” she replies “I’m the scariest thing in there,’ with a playful confidence. A lolita fantasy to these men? perhaps but Bartlett boldly plays with societal lines of appropriate behavior that Cario carefully crosses with Mr. Miller. The opposite can’t be said that of her best friend Winnie, who is looking to have an affair with Mr. Phillips, Miller’s best friend . Phillips is in a way, the regular man’s conscious for us all; silly, playful and horny but know what lines not cross.

Cairo‘s predicament is writing an essay for Yale where she cannot answer. “What is your greatest achievement in your life so far?” Besides her intelligence and outstanding grades, she has no real world hardships as she is a trust fund baby living mostly alone in the family’s Tennessee mansion. This lack of life experience bothers her and will be her main motive for the story’s downfall.

Another great, interesting fact about the script is that they allude to several modern issues of the day; women’s rights, censorship to interracial affairs, but it’s always a passing part of the conversation never the agenda of the characters in those situations, simply fantastic.

Cairo proposes her midterm project of taking on the works of author Henry Miller, which is banned from the school curriculum, to make it her own. Mr. Miller says no at first, but knows that this type of project would catapult her and her writer’s career. This is where both our characters will walk a tight rope with each other as they dive into the affair of the mind; painted in literature and fantasy. Unfortunately they must come down to earth and those have consequences at the end of the film.

Martin Freeman, as Miller gives a very measured likable performance, you see his passion to teach literature, but also being lost in his state of stale academia; ultimately not pursuing his own writing career. Freeman and Ortega have incredible dialogue back-and-forth with each other, which again makes this film feel special. 

They have this incredible passion, for each other’s writing, which really is the foundation of their relationship. They recite each other’s work and define the characters she has created in her the stories. Scenes of creative criticisms are irresistible to watch as they both respect and love each other’s talent for the word which makes the “Henry Miller Assignment” makes sense only to them.

It’s both spellbinding and dangerous at the same time as Bartlett creates a unique story from the tropes of the old professor and young student, falling in love, or having an affair. Example of this, is that Miller’s wife is kept in the fold, step-by-step, of his friendship and working relationship with Cairo. Beatrice at first luridly approves, as she herself is a writer living on the edge of alcoholism and complacency in her marriage and career. 

Beatrice(Dagmara Dominczyk), is Miller’s alcoholic, yet successful best selling author Wife.

When the adults have their scenes, it’s also too a mixture of past aspirations and the realities of their careers, old friends, having wonderful conversations over dinner, which also gives more backstory to all the relationships. Midway through the story in fact, Beatrice confidently, says to Miller in front of their best friend, ” You’re not a writer. It’s not that you can’t is that you don’t, you chose to be a teache.” Chopping him from his knees in the scene is an incredible study in the dynamics of all these characters.

As Cairo and Miller spend more time together, her crush grows as well as her writing. Ultimately Miller rejects the project as inappropriate and confesses to his wife all that has happened. But all may be lost as Cairo’s heartache turns to vengeance; to get Miller removed as teacher, and potentially blacklisted. Finally, there is a bit of mystery in the last scene, through tears, both smile at each other before she testifies at the school board of his inappropriateness. This action ultimately propels him to start writing again and they are now both “Hero, villain, writers.”

For this genre, Miller’s Girl is incredibly bold with wonderfully written dialogue that at times I needed to grab my dictionary. Bartlett crosses so many lines as a writer/director but done so with taste, complexity and intelligence. By pushing that main line between reality and fantasy she has created a different type of erotic thriller that is destined to be an Ortega fan favorite.

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